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Published: Saturday, 5/1/2010

Third Frontier is of great value to northwest Ohio


OHIO'S Third Frontier program has shown the benefits of moving proactively to diversify and grow our economy. The program is up for renewal on Tuesday's statewide ballot as Issue 1. Our state and region need to continue this highly successful economic development and jobs program.

Promising reports indicate a slight turnaround in the U.S. economy. The Commerce Department says consumer spending rose modestly in February, for the fifth straight month. Two key barometers of manufacturing activity have shown recent increases. The Dow Jones Industrial Average recently passed the 11,000 mark for the first time since 2008.

We welcome this news and hope for continued signs of economic growth. Yet other indicators shed a darker light. Unemployment remains high: The national average stands at 9.7 percent, while metropolitan Toledo's jobless rate hovers around 13 percent. In March, home foreclosures nationwide reached their highest level in five years. Wage growth remains sluggish.

With such mixed signals about a possible recovery, one clear message for communities everywhere is the need to establish a proactive policy of creating new opportunities to survive downturns and compete in the global economy.

Third Frontier was created in 2002 to establish Ohio as an innovation leader. The $1.6 billion, 10-year program is designed to expand our state's high-tech research capabilities to accelerate the pace of commercialization.

Since it began, Third Frontier has helped create nearly 55,000 jobs, directly or indirectly. It has created, attracted, or capitalized more than 600 companies.

Voter approval of Issue 1 will extend Third Frontier's funding through 2016, at $700 million over four years. That will lead to even greater job creation and economic development in Ohio.

SRI International, an independent, nonprofit research institute, assessed Third Frontier. It concluded that the program has created "an effective, integrated system for supporting innovation at all levels." It said Third Frontier's development and commercialization of new technologies can change Ohio's growth trajectory for decades. Continuing the program, SRI asserted, is well warranted.

Northwest Ohio has received nearly $80 million in funding through Third Frontier. Such funding enabled the Regional Growth Partnership to start Rocket Ventures, a $22.5 million venture fund for technology-based businesses.

In its first two years, Rocket Ventures has commercialized 63 startup companies, predominantly in three major clusters: bioscience, advanced manufacturing, and materials and alternative energy. It has made nine investments worth $3.7 million in technology-based businesses. Rocket Ventures has awarded nearly $1.5 million in 32 early-stage investment grants to companies.

Last year, Rocket Ventures clients generated $41 million in economic impact for northwest Ohio through co-investments, licensing, sales revenues, and federal grants.

Third Frontier has provided direct economic benefits to our state and region. It has gotten national recognition from such respected organizations as the National Governors Association and Pew Center for the States.

It's imperative that Ohioans support this critical program by voting yes on Issue 1, so that we can continue the successful transformation of our economy to one that is growing, more diverse, and globally competitive.

Renewal of Third Frontier will allow northwest Ohio to move forward in developing an innovative environment that will accelerate business attraction, growth, and creation, helping lift our region to new heights.

Steve Weathers is president and CEO of the Regional Growth Partnership, a nonprofit economic development organization that seeks to expand new, high-value business opportunities in northwest Ohio.

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